Law Professor and Sustainability Fellow Randall Abate Advocates for Climate Justice

“Climate justice” focuses on the need for equitable responses to the pressing challenge of climate change that is being felt here and now, a problem disproportionately affecting poor and marginalized people internationally.


FAMU Law Professor Randall Abate, who has been awarded one of five Sustainability Institute Faculty Fellowships for the 2016-17 school year, will soon publish a book surveying governance challenges for climate justice in multiple case studies across the world. He explains that the book will help “put a human face on the climate change crisis that we are currently facing in the world, in the U.S., and here in Florida.”

The book is titled, Climate Justice: Case Studies in Global and Regional Governance Challenges, and will be published in December, 2016. Professor Abate will teach a climate justice course at FAMU College of Law in the spring of 2017, drawing on the rich case studies in the book that cover North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, the United States, and Australia.

The case studies address impacts on affected communities including island nations, indigenous peoples, women in rural areas, South Florida residents, and animals.

The book raises the climate justice challenges that these regions and communities face and proposes legal solutions. During his sabbatical in fall 2016, Abate will travel to the U.K., Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan, Vanuatu, Australia, and three cities in the U.S. to teach courses and deliver lectures related to the book. He delivered lectures in Norway and Canada this summer on atmospheric trust litigation, which is the topic of a chapter that he prepared for this book.

 to rest of world

Many people are being displaced due to rising sea levels.

The regulation of climate change is complex and challenging, as it crosses international boundaries. Climate justice seeks to promote more equitable allocation of the burdens of impacts at local, national, and international levels, Abate says. Climate justice law is founded on international human rights and environmental justice theories.

“Whether we are considering the plight of indigenous peoples in the Arctic or low-lying island nations in the South Pacific, climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and polar melting affect many human rights including the right to health, food, shelter, culture, and life,” he explains.

“Climate justice takes many forms,” he continues, “sometimes in the form of court cases based on environmental and/or human rights-based theories, sometimes in the form of proposed treaty or statutory protections, and sometimes simply in the form of raising awareness of and sensitivity to the vulnerability of marginalized communities to climate change impacts and offering them a right to be heard.”


Agriculture is being greatly affected by climate change. 

Abate’s focus on climate justice is founded on a view of sustainability as a necessary consideration for responsible economic activity. He recognizes that resources should only be used in a way that ensures their availability for future generations. As such, one aspect of climate justice that Abate has been concerned with is atmospheric trust litigation. “This theory involves lawsuits brought by youth plaintiffs against state and federal government entities alleging that the government has a fiduciary duty to

protect the atmosphere for the benefit of current and future generations,” Abate writes. This theory draws on sustainability and its environmental stewardship foundations.

Abate has been a law professor at FAMU’s College of Law in Orlando since 2009. Upon return from his sabbatical, he will begin a three-year term as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College of Law in January, 2017. His body of work focuses on domestic and international environmental law (with an emphasis on climate change law and justice), animal law, ocean law, and constitutional and human rights law. In addition to the forthcoming book, he has published four other books and dozens of articles in law journals.

“Climate change is the greatest environmental, social, legal, and political challenge that the world has ever faced. And embracing the essence of what sustainability means may provide us with an effective response to this daunting challenge,” Abate says. 


Disruptions from flooding are causing economic and social harm.


FAMU Hosts Vice Chancellor from Leading Indian Agricultural University

Dr. N. C. Patel, vice chancellor of Anand Agricultural University, Gujarat, India, spent a day at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University meeting with deans, faculty, and officials to discuss how the two universities can collaborate on research and service to advance solutions for sustainable agriculture. The visit was facilitated by the FAMU Sustainability Institute.

FAMU’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Director of the Sustainability Institute Abena Ojetayo said “we are very pleased with this partnership in India, a nation with great promise in sustainable development. These relations help us share expertise and experiences that lead to real impact at home here in Florida and for communities across the ocean.”

“Ultimately we want to see that the people on the globe have sufficient food, energy, and a clean environment. In the context of that, universities play a strong role,” said Dr. Patel.

The universities are exploring establishing student and faculty exchanges and undertaking collaborative research in areas including crop production, soil science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, climate and meteorological sciences, and renewable energy. Patel’s visit is a component of FAMU’s Memorandum of Understanding with India’s National Council for Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Public Leadership (NCCSD) to promote solutions in sustainability, agriculture, climate change, and other STEM areas.

“We are brainstorming to see how we can solve these global issues together,” said Dr. Odemari Mbuya, faculty director of the Sustainability Institute. Dr. Mbuya, along with FAMU Professor Mehboob Sheikh, Ph.D., had just returned from a similar visit to India to various universities, organizations, and farms to give guest lectures and plan collaboration efforts.

The Dean of CAFS, Dr. Robert Taylor, welcomed Dr. Patel warmly. “We’re very sincere about these initiatives we want to develop with you and we are looking forward to what we can do with you.”

In addition to meeting with faculty members from the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Dr. Patel met with University President Dr. Elmira Mangum, Provost Marcella David, Vice President for International Education Dr. William Hyndman, Vice President for Research Dr. Tim Moore, and deans and faculty from other colleges and sschools. Dr. Patel concluded the day’s visit with a tour of the renowned FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruits.


India Partnership Expands Global Action on Climate Smart Agriculture

In November 2014, representatives of Florida A&M’s Sustainability Institute traveled to India to partner with the country’s premier organization for sustainability and climate change. The National Council for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (NCCSD) is an organization founded on facilitating action and implementing activities that are important to sustainable development while mainstreaming agriculture as a mitigation option.

The partnership began at an international conference on climate justice initiatives, where FAMU and NCCSD discovered mutual objectives. This led up to the joint signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between FAMU’s Sustainability Institute and the NCCSD.

Among the signatories of the MOU from the NCCSD is Dr. Kirit Shelat, the organization's executive chairman. Dr. Shelat has been involved in agriculture for more than 40 years, serving as the principal secretary of agriculture and cooperation department under the government of Gujarat, India. During this time he has formulated and implemented related policies, including a focus on benefiting poor families, farmers and entrepreneurs through planning for integrated development.

According to Shelat, during his tenure, Indian agriculture has seen improvements such as a 2%-3% increase in sustainable agriculture growth. Many have also been brought out of poverty, and research has been validated, leading to a rise in productivity. However, there have been inequalities in some areas. “There is unequal growth between agriculture and other sectors like services and manufacturing; the latter have an average growth of 8% - 10%, which is increasing rural and urban divide,” said Shelat.

Furthermore, there is unequal growth between farmers at the local level, even in a village with the same resources. Where one can make profits, the other can fail. “Adverse impacts of climate change pushes even successful farmers back to poverty,” Shelat continued.

FAMU’s collaboration with organizations such as NCCSD promotes the search for solutions together. “Climates do not deal with boundaries, so for big global issues, we need to have global collaboration where scientists from FAMU are working with scientists from Europe, Asia, and Africa,” explains FAMU’s Dr. Odemari Mbuya. 

Mbuya is the faculty director of the Sustainability Institute, director of the Florida Climate Institute at FAMU and the interim director of the Center for Water and Air Quality. He teaches Research Methods/Biostatistics and Plant, Soil and Water Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Food Siences. Dr. Mbuya holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Florida and a Bachelor’s degree in Crop Science from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. His research interest focuses on phytoremediation, water resources (quantity and quality), watershed processes and computer simulation modeling.

According to Mbuya, it is not just for research purposes that FAMU is collaborating with the NCCSD; the cultural exchange is just as important. “We are all one on this planet. We can communicate with India, China, Tanzania, and discuss the interests of United States as they discuss the interests of their country,” Mbuya explained.

This collaboration will allow FAMU to perform several tasks beneficial to Indian agriculture. “FAMU can make available appropriate technology related to Climate Smart Agriculture and Smart City Management for its replication in India,” said Shelat. FAMU will also be associated with its dissemination in other developing countries. FAMU has other MOUs with other universities and organizations abroad including, but not limited to, The University of Rwanda, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences.

In the first phase of work, FAMU may make available technologies that have been developed for salinity resistant crop, saline water use and land management, and bio-technology for agriculture and livestock.

Mbuya expounds on the importance of having a survival strategy in today’s bio-environment. “We need to work together, which is the purpose of these MOUs. We can work with people in these places and have much more control. We want to anticipate adverse effects of current practices, envision how it will be in Florida in 50 years. We should be able to predict so that we can plan.”

The MOU with India’s NCCSD is one facet of Florida A&M University's continuing mission to advance research and teaching targeted at real-world solutions to societal challenges. The Sustainability Institute was created by President Elmira Mangum in particular to advance the research, teaching and application of sustainable solutions at the campus, regional and global level.

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Sustainability at Florida A&M University is about the teaching, research and application of environmental and resource stewardship so people and planet prosper. The Sustainability Institute serves as the hub of all sustainability-related efforts at the university, bringing students, staff, faculty and the community together around creative collaborations.

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